The government has fallen and there will be new elections on 22 November. The parties in the House of Representatives are jointly determining which topics they wish to handle by then and which ones they don’t. This is what the various committees already did last week, with the formal vote taking place in the House of Representatives Tuesday afternoon.

What is a ‘controversial’ topic?

It is one that is ‘contentious’, in other words, where there are strong differences of opinion. The majority decides whether this is the case. When doing so, the parties keep a close eye on opinion polls. How will the cards be stacked later on? Will there be more support for their vision – or quite the opposite?

The plans for a more flexible BSA will be labelled as controversial.

Yes, and that was to be expected. On this issue, opinions in the House of Representatives are pretty strongly divided. Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf has submitted plans, but the political groups do not want to discuss them until the elections are over.

So what was his BSA proposal?

Earlier attempts to simply lower the BSA threshold fell apart upon encountering resistance in the House of Representatives. Dijkgraaf’s alternative was to fulfil two requirements – lower the pressure on students and maintain the pace of learning. His proposal was that the threshold should be reduced to a maximum of 30 points in the first year, but that the same 30-point threshold should also apply in the second year.

Stock illustratie BSA Bindend Studie Advies hoogspringen_Josine Henneken

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What do students think?

The Dutch Student Union (LSVb) and the Dutch National Students’ Association (ISO) believe it to be a good proposal. Indeed, today they are urging the House of Representatives to still deal with the topic, even though the education committee decided otherwise last Wednesday. The students believe that the pressure to perform is now too high and that their mental well-being is under threat. They view the proposal as a step in the right direction. On the other hand, some student councils are of a different opinion.

And what about the education institutions?

The universities of applied sciences confirmed earlier that they can live with this outcome, but the research universities are opposing it. They think that it is a bad plan and fear that weaker students may take longer over their studies.

What is the view of the political parties?

The Dutch green political party GroenLinks and the social liberal party D66 would prefer to abolish the BSA. Other parties, such as the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), are opposed to any lowering of the threshold. And then there are other parties still, such as the Socialist Party (SP) and the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), which have questions and reservations about the proposal. In other words, everything is far from cut and dried, and the outcome of the debates remains uncertain.

Internationalisation is an even more sensitive political topic. Why has this not been declared controversial?

It was not even on the list of topics that the House of Representatives could declare to be controversial or not. The reason given is that the topic has just been discussed extensively and is no longer on the agenda before the elections. It therefore doesn’t need to be declared controversial.

So English-taught programmes, the intake of international students, the central coordination aspects surrounding this issue…

All very interesting and perhaps the topic will come up occasionally in a debate, but for the moment there isn’t anything that could be declared controversial.

But hasn’t a legislative proposal been put online for consultation?

Yes, everyone can give their views on it. The ministry can adapt the proposal based on these suggestions before it is submitted to the political process. But that is not a matter for the House of Representatives.

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So can the outgoing cabinet just submit the proposed legislation?

That may be possible and then the House of Representatives can still decide to only discuss it after the elections – or to handle it immediately, of course, but that seems unrealistic.

Are there any other topics that will only be addressed after the elections?

Absolutely. The experiment with flexible learning, for example. With some study programmes, it was possible to study at your own pace and only pay tuition fees for the courses you are actually attending. That may well be a good thing for top athletes, entrepreneurs, caregivers, students with a disability, etc. But it will only come up after the elections and need not be declared controversial.

And what about the Foresight Study?

That is a similar kind of topic. Minister Dijkgraaf has sent his long-awaited Foresight Study to the House of Representatives and, in the covering letter, he refers to all kinds of issues that politics must consider for the education of the future. But he is leaving it to his successor to really do something with it, so it’s not actually relevant whether it is controversial or not.

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